Monday, June 9, 2014

F/A-18 Hornet - An Evolutionary JSF?

A recent comment to a post suggested that we continue procuring current aircraft and delay the F-35 until the technologies have been perfected.  While that’s a better approach than continuing the F-35, it’s not the best.  To take the discussion further, we need to ask, why is the F-35 failing?  The answer is because we’ve tried to incorporate too many advanced, non-existent technologies into a brand new airframe all at the same time (for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to set aside the problems associated with trying to make a single airframe serve three diverse and almost mutually exclusive roles).  As a result, we’ve spent two decades trying to develop the final product and there’s still no end in sight.  Realistically, we’re probably looking at another decade of development and even then we may not (almost assuredly won’t) get all the promised capabilities.  In the meantime, what do we have to show for it?  Nothing.  We’ve got an outrageously expensive F-35 airframe that can fly but without its myriad advanced technologies is a below average combat plane with hideously expensive maintenance and operating costs.

Interestingly, the statement of the problem also suggests a solution.  What we should have done was engage in an evolutionary approach to the JSF development.  We should have designed an initial version that incorporated a capable but basic set of characteristics – an airframe that would have had a reasonable degree of stealth, good but not stunning flight performance, a good set of off-the-shelf sensors, and room for the future additions and modifications that could be reasonably anticipated.  This would have provided for an effective combat aircraft that could have begun serving two decades ago. 

As research and development allowed, new technologies could have been incorporated into the production line and retrofitted to existing aircraft, if warranted.  By not demanding all the technologies at once, we could have had success from the start.  Now, there’s nothing new about this approach.  It’s been used sporadically on various programs and, in fact, the LCS supporters have recently begun to claim that the LCS, virtually useless at the moment, was intended to be a spiral development program, exactly as we’ve just described.  Of course, that’s after-the-fact utter nonsense that’s being spun to explain total failure.  Still, the LCS modules have gone back to square one and are now attempting to produce a very basic version that can be enhanced over time – a case of a degree of wisdom being forced on an unwilling program by circumstances rather than foresight and planning.  But, I digress …

So, consider the implications of the preceding discussion.  We could have, and ought to, apply evolutionary development to the JSF program with the easier technologies incorporated at the outset and the more difficult ones incorporated over time while garnering the benefit of actual service from the aircraft and the benefit of real world experience to feed back into the design.  Think about it.  Does that approach sound vaguely familiar? 

How about the F/A-18 Hornet program?  The Hornet has progressed evolutionarily from the A/B models to C/D, then to the E/F Super Hornet, and now the manufacturer has built an Advanced Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks, additional stealth, stealth weapon pods, etc.  This is exactly the kind of evolutionary development that we said the F-35 should have done.  In fact, if we devoted some effort to it, we could begin applying some of the JSF technologies, those that are mature, to the Hornet airframe, creating a Super Duper Advanced Hornet while still gaining the use of an effective combat aircraft while further R&D continues on the more difficult JSF technologies.  In short, the Hornet family is currently doing exactly what the JSF should have!!! 

If that’s the case, why did the Navy abandon the Hornet as a dead end and make the jump to an unproven new aircraft design based on largely non-existent technology?  Well, aside from utter stupidity and incompetence by Navy leadership, as evidenced by a non-stop litany of poor decisions over the last few decades, I really don’t know.  The Navy has bought in – hook, line, and sinker – to the concept of jumping generations of technology to produce wonder-machines in favor of solid engineering-based evolutionary development.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of the failure of the generation-jumping approach, the Navy remains firmly wedded to the concept.  Their fixation on shiny toys instead of solid tools is perplexing, to say the least.

In any event, how does all this help us in our current situation?  As I said, the Hornet represents a viable and steadily evolving aircraft path.  We can drop the JSF while applying its technologies to further enhance the Hornet as we continue to get immediate service out of a capable combat aircraft.  There’s no reason the JSF’s magic, 360 degree sensors and futuristic helmet can’t be applied to the Hornet if they ever achieve full functionality.  If the Advanced Super Hornet has insufficient stealth for its missions (and there is absolutely no Concept of Operations that says this is so that I’m aware of), more can be incorporated evolutionarily.  If the JSF’s ultra-sophisticated self-aware maintenance program ever works, there’s no reason it can’t be incorporated into the Hornet.  And so on.  If we want to continue JSF development as a purely R&D effort, that’s fine, too.   In the meantime, we’ll have a fully functional combat aircraft with known costs that are far below the F-35.  Evolve the Hornet!


  1. excellent article! well done young man!

  2. Not really, I personally don't like these articles as the F-35 is no longer in R&D as there are over a hundred already produced and many more in production for multiple nations. So you can't simply wish it way but think of how to make the best of the situation.

    Now don't compare it to the LCS, as the LCS is not made up of non-existent technologies but actually made of developed ones however the modules are made of developing technology, that as you know but they have completely flopped. In short the LCS is a made from poor requirements (mainly speed) which produced a poor product. The F-35 was a set of good requirements but a not an revolutionary product that was expected for the F-35A and F35C, but it is for F35B.

    For the marines F-35B is the dream product while there are some shortcomings such as lack on internal gun it is far superior platform compared to anything they have or is on offer. So the F-35B must continue as it offers far more support for amphibious operations than the harrier the marines previously had.

    The F-35C which is the one closest to the super hornet you mention, is an improvement but as you say an improvement with a large price tag. The problem with hornet is itself not a brilliant product which you seem to indicate. It's speed and manoeuvrability rapidly decrease when the extra weight is added such as the fuel tanks or a large package of weapons. The stealth increase that has been proposed is very minimal indeed, the RCS of the "evolved hornet" with weapons would be similar to a normal clean super hornet, so not much of an improvement. A major re-design of the super hornet structure would be needed which is not cheap and certainly not easy. However the technologies F-35 such as the helmet can go the hornet, indeed do not be surprised if the announce an upgrade of the hornet containing these upgrades do not require any large structural changes. So I believe production of the F-35C should be continued to replace the older airframes and the newer airframes should be updated so that they can be continued to be used until the Navy next twin engine aircraft is developed. If that development is delayed then those "newer hornets" can be replaced by whatever the future version of the F-35C is.

    The ones who really got ripped of by the F-35 program is the Air force with the F-35A. As unlike the other two versions in service with the other branches the do not have as many constraints as them or as dated aircraft as them. Indeed it operates the most advanced stealth aircraft the F-22. So what should they do? Well the F-35A is the cheapest of the variant and it itself is not a failure it just didn't meet the high performance expectations but got close, since the F-35 as everyone know was focused on the F-35B. So production should be continued however a replacement should be designed. Ideally an evolved cheaper design of the F-22 with F-35A being produced until the "evolved F-22" is in full production.

    1. yellowman, just to be clear, the F-35 is still purely a developmental program. There is not yet a combat capable aircraft in existence. The software that will provide combat capability has not yet been completed. The airframes that have been produced are useless.

      I may be misunderstanding you and, if so, forgive me and try again. You seem to suggest that the F-35 is based on solid requirements and the A and C models are based on existing technology and are not revolutionary. That's not even remotely correct. The A and C (and B!) models are predicated on the 360 degree sensors coupled with the magic helmet. None of that existed at the start of the program. That's the definition of revoutionary! The automated maintenance system was just a PowerPoint slide at the start of the program. Again, that's revolutionary. And so on.

      You say that the F-35 was based on a set of good requirements and is not revolutionary. Why, then, are we two decades into the program and still don't have a combat capable aircraft?

    2. Sorry, I was suggesting that the overall aircraft capability that is offered is a great improvement though not revolutionary but as you say certainly many parts inside the aircraft are revolutionary in all the models, if you get me?. The B just meets the original requirements of the marines more than the A and C do for the other branches.

      Well the two main reasons I see for the delay is first the trouble of meeting the F-35B requirements and it's impact upon the A and C. What should of been done is two base aircraft should of been developed separately one for the B and one for A and C. with both aircraft having a high amount commonality in terms of the sensors, the cockpit and the engines. That way the B unique airframe requirements don't impact upon the A and C.

      Secondly IO believe the lack of the communication between Lockheed and the government and the government not holding Lockheed accountable for delays. As it wasn't until 2011 if I remember correctly that the government got on too Lockheed case and stopped it filling its pockets.

      It is a combat cable aircraft although barely, well the ones that have Block 2B installed which I admit will relatively few at the moment although the fleet is being updated to Block 2B between now and 2015. This update allows the release of the AIM-120 ARMAAM and the J-DAM plus a greater use of its sensors. While this is relatively basic capability it cannot be classed as not combat capable.

  3. The Super Hornet program incorporated some technologies the Boeing intended for its JSF entry, and they are flying now. The Block II configuration has an AESA radar, an ATFLIR, and some other stuff that makes it more or less equivalent to F-35C: MSI, single ship geolocation, advanced EW and comms/datalink gear. Further hardware (IRST, CFTs, etc.) and software enhancements are currently in development, and will be fielded by 2016. These should not be confused with possible ASH enhancements, which could realize incremental improvements to powerplants, stealth features, and situational awareness. The Super Hornet is going to be around for 20 more years, so there is no doubt that development will continue. The biggest question is will the Navy procure all the 260 F-35Cs it has been told to buy? I think not. The F-35C is not a huge improvement over what they already have with the SH. The Navy has been hinting at the role the -C will play, and it seems that it will be play more of a support function: a forward stationed sensor platform that passes targeting lists back to the E-2D to disseminate to the SH strikers. What the Navy really needs is a heavy fighter that can carry the fuel load to enable longer ranged missions in the Pacific region. That aircraft is the F/A-XX.

  4. I still find it amazing how many people continue to think you can fight tomorrows wars with yesterdays weapons systems.

    Imagine if back in the fifties and sixties we had the same though ideas.

    Imagine trying fight the air war in Vietnam with upgraded F-86's or worse still WWII era planes. It is not hard because In Australia we had them (The RAAF had Avon Sabres and the RAN had British Sea Furies). We didn't send them to war for very good reasons. We learnt our lesson in Korea with WW2 vintage British Meteors versus MIG-15's.

    While the Hornet was an excellent fighter in its day and the Super Hornet has evolved into a great machine, remember if the enthusiasts had of head their way, instead the US Navy would be flying upgraded Tomcats and my Air Force the RAAF would still be flying F-111's. Great for Airshows, but combat effectiveness, I have serious doubts.

    Perhaps the US needs the same experience we had in order to prove the lesson. Not that would wish for the loss of life this would involve, but I think you get the idea.

    Also on F/A-XX I hope it happens too, but I suspect we are really talking about the F-35's replacement, not a supplement. I do not expect to see a operation squadron any time before 2040. Ask yourself this question, if the F-22 took 20 years to get combat ready, and the F-35 is heading looking like 23 years, why shouldn't we assume the next program will take just as long.

    Note suggestion for a new blog, "how would you do the F/A-XX differently", I am sure there would be lots of suggestions, and to me it is more relevant than "how would you rewrite history"


    1. Mark, please note the distinction here. I'm not suggesting that the Hornet is a superior aircraft (actually, it is currently in that it's a fully functional combat aircraft!) rather that it represents a viable alternative path until such time, if ever, the F-35 achieves its promised capability. If we can maintain a credible current combat capability via the Hornet while we sort out the F-35 problems and save billions of dollars at the same time, why wouldn't we? As I said, we can continue F-35 development as a strictly developmental program (instead of producing hundreds of non-combat aircraft) and when it's ready we can produce it.

      Also, the Hornet's capabilities are greater than you're giving it credit for. See Charley's comment above, for starters. The Advanced Super Hornet has even more capabilities: enhanced stealth, stealth weapon pod, conformal fuel tanks, greater range, etc.

      Before you totally condemn legacy aircraft, I would point out that the F-14, had it been progressively upgraded with AESA radar, modern avionics, improved sensors, etc. would probably still be a better strike fighter than anything the Navy has now. The knock on the Tomcat, and it was valid, was maintenance.

      Upgrades, taken to the extreme, can produce a completely new platform. The Hornet E/F is almost a new aircraft compared to the A/B/C/D. Similarly, an Advanced Super Hornet could contain every usable characteristic of the F-35 with the possible exception of stealth and it's far from clear whether that degree of stealth is warranted for the Navy. I've seen no CONOPS for the F-35C describing the planned usage of the F-35 and, hence, the need for stealth. My feeling is that the Advanced Super Hornet would have sufficient stealth for its role.

      The overall point, again, was that continuing to evolve the Hornet gives us a fully combat capable aircraft while F-35 development is ongoing. We need to terminate F-35 production until it's ready and that looks to be several years down the road, if ever.

    2. Given that the F-35 production has been held back at Low rate production levels until they finish it, to me proves that those running the program actually agree with you. How do you fix a program that had as many issues as the the F-35 with out producing a small number of progressive better aircraft? I am having trouble working through how you do that in practice.

      I agree that this program was seriously broken a few years back, if you had told me that they would achieve the progress they have in the last two years, two years ago I would have laughed at you. The program now is showing the signs of getting back on track. I see for the first time in a long term reasons to be positive about the future of this aircraft.

      If the F-35 Program has a problem it is excessive public disclosure. We basically told our potential enemies what to aim for, and we gave them 10 years to achieve it without staying behind.

      The fact the navy has not disclosed the full technical capabilities of an aircraft which is still 5 years away from IOC is something I would agree with. So why would they publish a CONOPS at this point in time?

      On evolving the Super hornet, yes I am sure you can improve it. I use the example of the DDG1000 program. Yes it has problems, yes it was over budget, but would fixing it been a better spend in the long term than the simple upgrade which has turned into a very significant redesign of the legacy design? I understand that not everybody will agree with my point of view, and that is fine. I juts think we are at the point where as good as our old legacy platforms where in their day, it is time to move on.


    3. Mark, we've produced 180 or so JSF already and are scheduled to produce around 300 before the first truly combat capable aircraft with the proper software, as I recall. That's off the top of my head so forgive and correct me if I'm wrong about those numbers. If I'm right, that's well beyond a few aircraft for developmental purposes!

      You raise a great point about public disclosure. There's a fine balance to be had there. You have to bear in mind that in our system the taxpayer is funding these programs and, like any good consumer, wants to know what he's getting for his money. If the Pentagon wants funds and support it has to describe what it wants to build. An occasional small "black" program is OK (the F-117 comes to mind) but when you're asking for billions of dollars to produce the backbone of our future aviation forces for the next 30 years, you've just got to disclose a fair amount of information or you won't get funding.

      I would also suggest that excessive disclosure is the very least of the JSF program's problems!

      By the way, it's been 20 years not 10!

      I also have to respectfully disagree that the JSF has made significant progress the last couple years. It has been an endless stream of delays (software delays for both the combat and maintenance suites, for example) and failures (bulkhead cracking, helmet display, etc. - see the DOT&E report for all the details of all the problems).

      You completely lost me with the DDG-1000 reference. It's new construction. Did you mean to reference something else?

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Please note total production to date closer to 100 aircraft than 180.

      The reference to DDG-1000 was this, with the F-35 we have stayed the course determined to see it through, with The DDG-1000 we killed the program after only three ships and said lets built more of an old class the new program was supposed to replace. Exactly what many anti-f-35 people are arguing for.

      I totally agree that public disclosure is a is a balancing act. I am not referring to the discussion about its many problems, but just a few short years into the program Lockheed was telling anybody who would listen what the key technologies were that they were trying to develop. It is not a surprise to me that both Russia and China have aircraft flying today which attempt to match these capabilities. If we think we have game changing capabilities should we at least wait until we deploy them before we go public?


  5. I am amazed that the old saying still holds true - Those who don't study History are doomed to repeat it.

    Before this love fest with the latest big fat Hornet goes much further read this book - Pentagon Paradox: The Development of the F-18 Hornet by James Stevenson.

    Before you lament the aircraft used in Vietnam - read Boyd by Robert Coram and see how many A/C losses were foreseeable with EM theory.

    Lastly before ANYONE talks about new A/C find out what makes a GREAT fighter or bomber or CAS A/C and then use those as the requirements.

    We have not learned our lessons from history and instead are producing A/C that are too expensive have too high a maintenance to sortie ration, and are NOT capable. If you think we can afford to lose 1,000s of F-22s and F-35s like we did in Vietnam, think again.

    Read OUR history and learn.

    1. Anon, this blog is all about learning from history and applying those lessons to current and future actions. Which lesson would you like us to learn that we haven't already covered and what viable alternative do you propose?

      You might want to read through the archives of this blog, if you haven't already. We may well have covered all the lessons you're suggesting!

  6. You wrote an excellent article about the problems that come from attempting to do too much, too soon in a development program, but then you go and insult both me, and the LCS program.

    I told you from the beginning, and said to others long before you started this Blog that the LCS program was conceived as an evolution program. It is not something I just came up, it is a driving force behind the program. Go back to the original literature on the program and to see the term "Spiral development" used constantly.

    It was politics that forced both sea frames into production far too quickly. That one reason for having modules was to allow their technology to advance after an IOC that is less than the program goals. And that most of the political problems that continue to plague the LCS program is because critics like you, who want top keep the navy in the Cold War era, harp about the LCS not being frigates.

    I admit that setting speed as the primary selection criteria was a mistake. And I have explain to you many times why that mistake happen. Still, having a vessel that takes advantage to the existing technology to increase speed and performance would also be a mistakes on par with build warships without steam engines after the US Civil War.

    My suggestion is the same as "Anonymous", read a little history about previous weapon develop program, it will give you a better understanding about what required to design and build any technological advance system.

    1. GLof, I've read the original documents and I don't recall any mention of spiral development other than the vague statement that modules could incorporate new "stuff" over time. That's not a planned spiral development, that's just a vague statement of a hoped for development. If I'm remembering incorrectly, please point me at something definitive and I'll gladly re-evaluate my position.

      Regardless of any statements (or lack thereof) about spiral development, the actual fact is that the LCS and its modules were intended from day one to be the final product with all the networked, off-board, remote, unmanned, magic technologies right from the outset and that's what they worked towards. There was no planned sequence of additions. Of course, they all failed miserably and now the LCS program has been forced to adopt a spiral approach since nothing is working.

      Please re-read my posts. I have never been critical of the LCS not being a frigate. I've been critical of lots of aspects of the program but that is not one of them. The LCS should not be a frigate. I believe the Navy intended for it to be the "modern" frigate of the new age of naval warfare. Again, that failed completely.

      If you can point me at an original document that spells out a specific plan of spiral development, I'd love to see it. Thanks!

      By the way, I routinely and intentionally insult the LCS program but I never insult individuals. Your name was not mentioned in the post or comments. I'm not sure how that constitutes an insult to you! Your comments are always well written, to the point, and I enjoy reading them. Whether I agree with any particular position is irrelevant. Keep writing!


      DOT&E makes note of spiral development for LCS.


    3. GAB, OK, I'll stand slightly corrected. However, their use of the term simply describes the production of a couple prototypes (Flight 0) to be followed by the production run (Flight 1) that incorporates lessons learned (though the report also notes that the timeline largely precluded incorporation!). This is not spiral development as I've described it which is a planned process of sequential incorporation of specified capabilities at designated intervals all while ensuring that the interim platforms are fully functional. The F-22 was, I think, a good example of a spiral development program with specific, planned improvements at specific times (I'm not an AF expert so someone correct me if I'm wrong).

    4. ComNavOps;

      You make the point that most people completely miss about spiral development. You have to build something (HW ro SW release), test it, analyze if it needs to be changes AND THEN start the next build cycle.

      What all of the MICC syncophants miss is the REQUIRED time between build starts. It is not spiral if the build cycles overlap because there is no chance to figure out what needs to be fixed before the next design/build cycle starts.

      DDG-1000 and LCS are classic ship cases of this. The DDG-1000 SW releases were just starting to be tested as the next release was already being coded. LCS 1 & 2 have only now finished testing and acceptance (without Mission Modules BTW) yet we are up to LCS hull number 6 & 7 (or higher I haven''t checked lately) being built. The only "spiral " feedback was the lengthing of LCS-3 to get ird of the Butt Cheek floats on LCS-1.

      The MICC syncophants use spiral development as the acquisition strategy du juor becuase it is the easiest way for them to say they don't konw what they want but start spending money!

    5. Your assuming that changes can not occure to prototypes during and after construction, that really not how things are done. Typically you run a development program by test and change, just as you said, but you don't have to build a new prototype to incorperated change, all that does is waste time. You modify your existing prototype because it both quicker and cheaper than building a completely new unit. In fact building many several prototypes allow you test many different options to correct problems. That is why the original LCS was to have six prototypes of two diiferent types.

    6. In fairness, spiral development was originally conceived of for software development in the business /consumer world - a far cry from the mission critical world of DOD, particularly when applied to hardware with software interfaces.

      Spiral development is not used for financial transaction or life support software. Perhaps here is a lesson for DOD: .

    7. Anon, that's interesting! Do you see spiral development as inherently unsuited for hardware development and military applications or do you think it's appropriate? If you think it's unsuited, why?

    8. GLof, you've made that claim several times in previoius comments, that the first six LCS's were intended to be prototypes. Do you have a source for that. I don't recall ever seeing that. Honestly, it sounds like an after-the-fact explanation for the shortcomings of the LCS. GAB found the reference to 4 Flight 0 LCS's followed by the Flight I production run which could be interpreted as prototypes, I suppose. Even that smacks of after-the-fact. Going back to the very earliest docs, I can't find reference to prototypes, at all. As best I can tell, the first LCS was intended as an all-up, fully functioning warship, not a prototype. If the Navy thought from day one (not an after-the-fact, revisionist explanation some years later) that it was building prototypes, that would change my outlook somewhat (it's still a failed program but I would cut them a bit more slack!). Point me to a reference, if you have one.

    9. Reply to the other Anon;

      I didn't mean to cast asperstions to the acquistion strategy itself. You are correct it was developed for complex easy to change items, mainly software systems.

      All acquisition strategies have their correct application environment, if you try to apply them in a different environment, you get what you get. That is my main rant against the MICC folks, they don't even know which strategy is for which case, they jsut grab the spiral becuase it keeps the money flowing.

      Interestingly on DDG 1000, the OVERALL program strategy, inclduing SW,HW, and SHIP was spiral. Yet on my first day I read the SW Development Plan and it stated the SW develop strategy would be evolutionary.

      An excellent case of showing that the folsk at the top wanted max flexibility but the folks tasked with developing things knew they could not be reworking the entire software easch release. Instead they correctly picked the strategy that gets the infrastructure established in the first release and then add on functionality in each of the subsequent releases. The correct application of the evolutionary strategy.

      To GLof;

      You are right that you can modify prototypes in a sprial development. But again you have to have time to do it. However DoD does not prototype anymore (since the F-16 competition) and certainly the Navy does not prototype on complete new hulls that are destined for the Fleet. If the Navy were to REALLY designate DDG-1000 or LCS-1/2 as prototypes then they might have an argument, but they haven't and claim that all will be operational (including the butt cheeked LCS-1).

    10. CNO,

      On LCS the answer is in front of us: LCS-1and 2 were funded with RDT&E funding (a first for fleet assets) and all other hulls were funded with SCN funding (like every other USN warship).

      Ergo, only LCS-1 and LCS-2 were RDT&E efforts.


    11. GAB, you're quite correct about the funding. However, I don't see the funding as anything other than a Navy accounting maneuver. I've seen nothing (that I remember, anyway!) that specifically describes the first one LCS (or two or four or however many) as a prototype. The closest to that would be the reference you cited. However, I think the Flight 0 description was merely an arificial delineation intended to mark the end of the manufacturing competition rather than as a prototype designation, after which the downselect would occur and the Flight I would be built from the winning design. Of course, none of that happened.

      If the LCS-1/2 were prototypes by virtue of their funding source then that means that LCS-3/4 were not prototypes.

      To a large degree, it's a matter of semantics whether one or more of the LCS's were true prototypes. The distinction is useful only in that it reveals the mindset of the Navy. They didn't commit to a prototype and then possible production depending on the success of the prototype; instead, they committed to 55 ships regardless of the success of the prototype and before the first had even been built. Hence, almost by definition, they were never prototypes. They were merely the first of the production run.

      Also, LCS apologists like to claim that the first (however many) ships were prototypes so as to explain away the problems as typical and expected of a prototype. Again, I see little or no evidence that the Navy ever considered the first few as true prototypes. In fact, the production schedule pretty much proves that contention as we had moved on to contracts for subsequent ships long before any significant prototype feedback could have occured.

      As I say, largely semantics.

    12. CNO,

      For some reason the GAB tag did not make it to the post on Spiral development comparing the business /consumer world - and DOD - so you know I am going to roll in hot!

      Spiral development is inherently unsuited for most DOD projects because it seeks to get to the end product through an iterative process of going back to the war fighter and asking the question "does this work?" and then adjusting elements of a project.

      Now, most successful designs build upon previous work and are improved by user feedback, but spiral development of expensive, long lead time items that have real downsides if they fail (e.g. a nuclear reactor) is just not satisfactory.

      For weapon systems, you have to start with a well conceived, well built product that addresses a real requirement before you can consider the evolutionary modifications that any weapon system undergoes after introduction to the force.

      For DOD, spiral development of non-software programs can easily become a crutch for poorly developed requirements. It removes cost, quality, and schedule constraints the way a normal development process should work. Worse, the feedback process is typically not provided from across the force, but a select sample as interpreted by the program office.


    13. GAB, you make great points although you're describing a different version of spiral development than I did in the post. You're describing (and correct me if I misinterpret what you mean) an evolutionary development based on feedback. I'm describing a planned series of additions that are known from the start and do not depend on feedback, at all. For example, we build a good, solid A2A fighter with plans to add a basic A2G capability after three years followed by a new radar which we're already working on and believe will be ready a couple years after that followed by a cruise missile carry/launch capability, and so on. It's all known at the start and the timeline is established at program inception. The advantage is that we get a serviceable aircraft at the start rather than having to wait decades for the entire package to be ready all at once (as has happened with the JSF).

      The development of the Apache is probably an example of the evolutionary development you're describing where new versions are produced over time based on feedback (not sure; I'm not an AF guy) rather than a scheduled sequence of additions known from the start.

      You make the very good point that spiral development that depends on non-existent technology succeeding is foolish (again, as has happened in both the JSF and LCS). Non-existent technology is not spiral development, it's research.

      Your last paragraph is a gem and should be carved on the walls of the Pentagon!

    14. Your last paragraph is a gem and should be carved on the walls of the Pentagon!


      Or at least the walls of the latrine!


    15. First, I use the small 'p' meaning of phototype, as the generic term of a research and development test unit, not the big "P" meaning as the very first vessel of a given class. You can use any other tag you wish, if it makes you comformable.

      The original plan, as stated in various documents sent to Congress call for six technological development LCSs, labled 1-6, that were not entended not as first in class of any LCS. They function was to develop solutions to the numerious technological question such revolution vessel raised. Such questions as how th fasten modules ti the deck of mission bay. The best radars, computer network, and engines, even propulsion system, for the Flight I "Prototype" which was intended as the first production version. I am not sure any of these first vessels were entended to enter the fleet as functional warships without major upgrade. I do know that putting both designs into production was not intended when the RFP was released.

      BTW, as I under stand thing there is a difference between evolutional development and spiral development.

      Evolutional development is a trial and error method that has no set goals but to get the most from what is available. It used a looser set of requirement as hard goals would interfer with the learning process that is the heart of this method.

      Spiral developemt is a more structured design method with set goals and timetables. The type of design method favored by the Pentgon's bureaucrates. It is "better" because it give them more control over things. The problem with it is that is both costly as wasteful.

    16. G Lof: “The original plan, as stated in various documents sent to Congress call for six technological development LCSs, labled 1-6, that were not entended not as first in class of any LCS.”


      G Lof,

      That is all fine, but what Congress *did* was to fund LCS-1and 2 with RDT&E funding (a first for fleet assets); all other hulls were funded with SCN funding. This is statutory law through the NDAA and trumps any “original plans.”

      SCN funding has specific limitations in statute that are not inherent in RDT&E. Later hulls (LCS-3 on) were funded using SCN funding the same way as every other USN warship. Congress provided explicit direction as to what was to be used for what.

      The Constitution is quite explicit about the Congressional power to direct funds for specific purposes, and Congress clearly chose to fund only the first two LCS hulls with RDT&E money. Also note that the LCS mission modules are also funded with a mix of funding streams.


    17. And I don't suppose I need to tell you how much Congress screwed the original development plans for the LCS over the years. That they canceled the original LCS-3 and LCS-4 because of the growth in development cost for the program. How certain Congressmen and Senators were so fixated on, the development cost, of the first ships, they literately forced the Navy into that idiotic competition between the two design group. All of which resulted in the six ship development plan dying a messy death.

      Just remember that the question was when their was a six prototype development plan for the LCS, which I answered. I was not asked id the original six ship development plan was still in effect, which it is not effective.

    18. GLof,

      Ultimately, the Navy is responsible for management of its programs; blaming Congress for failures of the LCS is ludicrous.

      Plenty of other program offices (P-8, Virginia, DDG-51) have manged their programs (and DoD, and the White House, and Congress...) without major problems.

      DoD DOT&E has been all over the LCS program from the get go, and having been mentored by one of the principals of the street fighter concept, I can state without hesitation that the problems with LCS lie directly with the failure of the Navy in translating the concept into a viable program.


    19. GLof, you've made the claim several times that the first six LCS were prototypes. I've got almost every publicly available document related to the LCS program and I don't recall that ever being the case. In fact, I don't recall any Navy document that uses the word "prototype". The closest is the reference to the four ships of Flt 0 and, to the best of my recollection, those were never called prototypes. One might make an argument that Flt 0 implies prototypes but the accelerted pace of the subsequent construction certainly negates the use of the Flt 0 ships as prototypes.

      The DOT&E report that GAB references refers to the four ship Flt 0 and that was in 2004. Given that the LCS-1 wasn't laid down until 2005, then the Navy would have abandoned the six ship prototype approach a year or more before the first LCS was even begun. That seems unlikely and certainly Congress would have had nothing to do with it.

      To be fair, I certainly can't remember everything I've ever read. Perhaps the Navy has referred to one or more of the LCS as prototypes. If you can find a reference, please share it. If not, please stop making the claim. This blog is based on verifiable facts. Perhaps you're remembering events incorrectly. I've certainly done that before!

    20. GLof, I just went back and re-read the Congressional Research Service report RS21305, "Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS): Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, Oct 28, 2004. The report was issued a year prior to construction begining on LCS-1. It lays out the construction schedule which called for -1 and -2 to be built with R&D funds and all remaining ships to be built via SCN. There is no mention of prototypes and there is no mention of Flt 0/1. The report strongly suggests, and in my mind makes quite clear, that the Navy's plan was to get as many ships under contract as possible in as short a time as possible, the reasons being largely political. There is absolutely no mention of prototyping and, in fact, the lack of "gap" time between the first and subsequent ships for feedback is pointed out in the report as a potential weakness of the program. The Navy had no intention of prototyping. LCS-1/2 were intended to be full-up warships of the class.

      The use of R&D funding was a Navy accounting maneuver to get the class started while avoiding having to answer questions to Congress about the lack of an analysis of alternatives, as pointed out in the report.

      As an aside, the budgeted cost for LCS-1,2 was $215M in then year dollars.

      I think this puts to rest the prototype issue unless you have a specific reference.

  7. Let’s be fair now. The F35 is a spiral developmental program. The releases and the advances in each release are heavily documented and get great numbers like 2B and 3i.
    It’s just that it keeps failing to make the agreed upon deadlines.
    On that I think we all have to agree.
    Now I’m a big fan of the F35, and for the UK I think it’s working out great. We are interested in capability and not too much about cost. And as another poster pointed out the B version is cracking on great. (Not least I suspect because we have applied a huge amount of pressure for it to get advanced)
    Unfortunately ( although many many of the aircrafts systems are fine ) the critical aspect of this fighter. The ability to forget about all that turning, ducking diving and wiggling about that Hollywood loves so much in its fighter films. Just lock and fire weapons regardless of heading. JUST isn’t working yet.
    360 by 360 IR viewing, and the like, was also pretty important for us to land vertically at night on a moving carrier.
    It was ambitious, and much of it is a software issue ( so easily upgradable). But until it works the plane is NOT GREAT.
    Not rubbish, but not great.
    This is wear politics steps in. If the engineers got their way we would rejig the release schedule and be honest about progress. But that and nationalistic issues ( the Typhoon helmet was effectively working great , but got cancelled because it shifted the work share far too far to the UK ;) continue to screw things over.
    The truth is, and I think we all know it, that it was a bit ambitious, “bleeding edge” and we got a bit cut.
    But we are nearly there now, and luckily delays in other projects, yes I’m looking at you EMALS, means 2020 is a perfect time for a new IOC.
    In the mean time, you have a new Hornet to play with ( and I suggest you build some more F22’s ) we have trance 3 Typhoon. How about we concentrate on not letting the Chinese steal the last bits of F35, so that when it finally comes into service it won’t be simple a parity fighter!!!!!

    1. Beno, the mere fact that the software was going to be issued in chunks does not make the program a spiral development, at least not in the sense that I'm describing it. A spiral development would have been to produce a fully functional, combat capable aircraft that intentionally deferred some of the ultimate planned features for future versions. The JSF was always intended to have all of its features ready on day one and airframe one (neglecting prototypes). If you have documentation indicating otherwise, please point me at it.

      We all need to be careful not to rewrite history to excuse what's happened. That's what the LCS supporters are constantly doing.

      "But we are nearly there now...", sounds exactly like what was being said ten years ago and five years ago and one year ago and yet we're never actually there. That's the trap in this kind of program. We can wind up spending enormous sums of money for a program that's "nearly there" and yet never actually gets there. The LCS modules have been "nearly there" for years now. The Air Force's airborne laser program was "nearly there" a decade ago. And so on. The challenge is to recognize which programs are truly "nearly there" and which are simply money pits that will never get there and to do so early enough to cut the wasted expenditure before it becomes obscenely excessive as the JSF has.

      JSF has decimated the military in terms of other programs that have been cut in order to pay for a program that has been "nearly there" for the last decade or more. At what point do you say enough is enough? Are you prepared to ride the program to the very bottom? That's what the US military seems to be doing. The Marines, for example, have cut the AAV replacement, reduced the high end tank and artillery assets, and cut other programs all to pay for the JSF. At some point, the JSF, even if it eventually does everything it's claimed to do, will become more detrimental to our overall assets and force structure than it can ever be beneficial. In my opinion, that point was reached around five years ago and it's only getting worse as more and more programs are cut to pay for this. The Air Force, for example, is cutting 300 A-10's to pay for this, as I noted in a previous post. The JSF is killing our military assets! OK, I'm getting sidetracked into costs but it's all related.

  8. Oh right yes ….. The point of your post….
    The F35 really has been designed from the ground up to take and to integrate all these technologies on one holistic aircraft.
    I don’t think at this point there is much point doing anything else. Back flushing to the Hornet is a forgone conclusion, but by the time you have developed Hornet related distributed aperture seperatly, even the F35C will be flying properly I think.
    If your point was more that we should trial things out in our previous fighters then morph them together into the new advanced fighter. I think we have ?
    International partnering, HMD and cueing is from Typhoon [ inc 220 degree ( I think ) IR vision ]. Stealth and AESA from F22, VTOL from Harrier. Cheap single engine mass production from F16.
    Should have been a much safer option shouldn’t it really ?

  9. CNO,

    I agree with the concept spending a lot on RDT&E, but we have a serious technology fetish and try to design as we develop, instead of designing after we develop.


  10. Gosh a heated F35 debate. Never saw it coming 
    I’m liking the Super Hornet, don’t get me wrong. And the F35C is a big meh.
    It’s the one that feels like a giant “shoe horn in” to me, ( contrary to the belief that it’s the B ). SPEC : well it has to be a bit more manoeuvrable and slower stall speed, so instead of some nifty software ( which was bound to be less complex than the B’s ) we will just Jam bigger wings on it, reducing the stealth and the top speed. Brilliant.
    And as for not catching the wire !!!! ug.
    It seems the most mediocre and by far the most expensive ( that just boggles the mind ? ) So I find myself with very little to defend it with really.
    Delay the C, well yes, obviously, that is going to happen anyway whether you take the decision to or not. Deploy the Super Hornet and upgrade the F18, again yes, no real choice.
    Upgrading Super Hornet, well I’m not sure it will really be 10 years till C is ready, but it could be the rate its going. So …. Yer.
    But that’s the C ( and this is a NAVY site so ill forgive you for that ) but…
    are you also recommending Super F16, Super A10 and most unlikely of all Super Harrier ?

  11. correct me if im wrong , but isnt the DAS system can be (relatively) easily mplemented on any existing aircraft like the Super Hornet ? it is an all quadrant staring IR sensors that feed the data in a HMD..

    or should i say ,without DAS then how good is the F35 compared to F18E/F or the next gen hornet ?

    i personally agree that you dont need stealth for most of the mission type, you need it to handle the hard stuff but certainly other type of mission can be handled just fine by 4th gen fighter. Then why all the eggs are placed into this single "stealth" basket ?

    1. Yes, the DAS could, in theory, be added to any plane, however, the software required to integrate the data and present it in a meaningful form to the pilot would have to be developed or adapted for the specific aircraft and the software development has, thus far, proven very difficult for the JSF. It would prove equally difficult for any other aircraft.

      Without the DAS/HMD the F-35 is pedestrian compared to the threat aircraft currently being developed.